What to do about Fortnite?

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Speaking of the effects of being involved in a trend and its effects on  the teenage mind, New Yorker Linda Ihle offers, “It makes you feel like part of something larger…  You’re not by yourself. Individually, teenagers are isolated and worried and scared all the time of whether or not they’re doing the right things and wearing the right clothes…  It didn’t matter what your clothes were or where your parents worked; we were all in it together.”  Perhaps these are words of wisdom from a gamer who understands phrases like: new skins, trap-kill, sky bridge, and try hard.

Doctor Ruth Deller, principal lecturer in media and communications at Sheffield Hallam University states trends often include “people looking for community and identity… But the internet has definitely made fandom more visible – for those participating in it but also for everybody else.”  Surely, Dr. Geller is talking about Fortnite, after all, what could inspire such knowledgeable words about a videogame that holds the attention of adults, teens, and children for hours on end and has some teachers thinking it’s the death of academia?

Truth be told, all of these ideas are from the British Newspaper, The Guardian, from an article entitled, “Beatlemania: ‘the screamers’ and other tales of fandom” (September 29, 2013).  The fact remains that parents, teachers, coaches, and some world leaders are talking about the effects Fortnite (and other high-engagement videogames) have on the developing minds of school children.

For every argument that a concerned adult can make about the dangers of Fortnite there’s most likely dozens of children, teens, and adults who would argue their passion (dare I say addiction) has the potential for positive outcomes. For example, creating unique outfits, dances, and even signature “emote” routines screams of originality.  Building forts to defeat opponents or properly prioritizing weapons, resources, or consumable goods (first aid kits, bandages, shield bonuses, et cetera) can encourage high-levels of problem-solving.  Even learning how to interact (verbally or non-verbally) with teammates requires above average communication skills.  Heck, in one of the newest editions of Fortnite, it’s even possible to thank the bus driver, perhaps a subtle way to reinforce gratitude and politeness.

It’s no wonder some students will argue that staying up late to play one last round or getting up early to sneak in a few games on the latest update might seem like a better choice than being ready for school.  They think Fortnite has positive effects on their skills, they are surrounded by others who feel the same; so, it’s hard for them to believe that videogames might be encouraging to act in ways that are doing more harm than good.  After all, aren’t they only doing what almost everyone else is?

Full disclosure here, I’m a gamer.  I’m not addicted per se, but when I have an extra hour or two during a night, I will play Fortnite.  I’m also a teacher. Educators that I interact with regularly, mostly in Washington but also in Idaho, Oregon, and Arizona suspect some sort of concerning trend among the students who say they game several times a week as observed in their choices, actions, and behaviors

Take the above example of the student who got up at 6am to play the latest map release of Fortnight.  Some of those students come to school ready to sleep, not ready to learn, or may be depending on junk food for a bump in energy.

What about the student who stayed up late to play one last game?They sometimes skip homework and from my perspective, also may not read, not participate in extracurricular activities, or explore their creative side due to their urgency to game.  Since educators have very little influence on children outside of school, many of them feel that assigning homework might create conditions for unintended feelings of failure.

There are also certain behaviors that are widely thought to be negative.  After spending much time in the world of “game chat”, I would recommend that parents be aware of children acting out by doing things like throwing their controllers, screaming at the TV, quitting in the middle of games, or addressing friends or relatives with hostility due to negative experiences while playing videogames.

Some things that parents can do at home to minimize negative impact videogame playing may have on achievement at school:

  • Help students create choice and behavior agreements  for days or total time that all parties compromise are acceptable within the living quarters. This practice will encourage students to take ownership of their time, actions, and choices.

  • Create incentives for videogame playing by allowing extra time for gaming for completing chores or rewards for time spent reading or working on homework, this might reinforce goal-setting and the concept of production and earn.

  • Have tournaments so you don’t sacrifice a student’s interest in videogames by mandating them to go out and play. Ask the student to have friends over and use videogame tournaments or multiplayer games for inclusion, encourage them to create their own games and rules using existing games and rules.  For example, who can last the longest in Fortnite or who can get the most kills, who can share the most bandages, et cetera.  This can minimize the concept of on-line associations and build a meaning for real friends.

  • Encourage the students to work with teachers and ASB councils to create a videogame club at school, this will probably take extended time, energy, and effort and reinforce such things as patience, wherewithal, and communication.

  • Ask the student to draft “citizenship” expectations for videogame play – for example, if the student uses inappropriate language, rage-quits, or lies to play, what would the student propose as negative outcomes for his/her choices, actions, and behaviors.

  • Encourage the students to help one another get better at their game of choice by having tutorials to emphasize positive communication and friendship.

  • Ask the student to propose benchmarks so you know that videogames are not having a negative impact on their academic achievement.  Daily or weekly progress reports might put an unrealistic task on teachers’ plate, monthly or semester grades might be better, Lexile ® scores for reading, and other evaluations can be used in other circumstances for students to prove that they are achieving in the ways that they say.  It’s difficult to propose a reciprocal consequence for this, but in my class, I tell students they can earn the privilege to sit where they want back if they are consistently making good choices.

  • At least talk to students about their gaming sessions, questions like, “How do you think you did?” “Did you have fun?” “What could have you done better to play better?” “How do you feel?” probably mean more than you think.  Even better, having students write about these things once or twice a week could even improve written communication skills and logic.

A final word, I’ve seen pictures of parents who have put locks on the power cords of their students’ devices, confiscated the systems connection cords, hid the controllers, and other things to discourage students playing Fortnite.  My advice is that in a school of hundreds of other students, someone has already figured out how to overcome what you are doing.  Work with the student, the choices, actions, behaviors, passions, and potential addictions could follow them throughout life, your oversight of these things will probably end when they reach their late teens or early twenties.

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